Retail Technologies Supporting Customer Service in a Digital Age

In recent years, many conversations within the retail sector have focused on the relationship between online and offline trade. A superficial observation of online growth rates can give the impression bricks-and-mortar retail is taking a back seat, and e-commerce is continuing its triumphant march. However, industry experts know this view is too simplistic.

The annual growth of retail sales in Australia has slowed to just 2.1 percent, however domestic online sales, while only accounting for five percent of total sales, currently, are growing at over 30 percent per annum. E-commerce now accounts for more than half of the growth in total retail sales, with its annual growth of more than 24 per cent globally, causing concern for traditional retailers, who are often not able to increase sales that rapidly.

Online is by no Means Cutting Out Offline Trade

What is clear though, is that if retail businesses ignore digital, they will be left behind. While stores who are stuck in their traditional ways complain about slow business, those who have embraced new technology, such as Amazon, who launched its revamped Australian website in December 2017, are seeing enormous growth (Amazon Australia’s new revamped website almost doubled its customer traffic to around 3.8 million Australians during December 2017). Other retailers with strong online activity, such as Woolworths, Kmart, Myer and JB Hi-Fi, reported similar growth.

The goal should be to make the bricks of the business intelligent by adapting them to new customer behaviour. The key to success is carried around by the consumers themselves: their smartphone.

The Real Revolution Comes With the Smartphone

Today, nearly 90 percent of Australians own a smartphone and many use it to obtain information online before making a purchase. For example, if a store owner registers its company with Google My Business, consumers can receive notifications about the business. This also makes sense for large retailers because they can utilise local ads and information regarding product availability and prices, which can be obtained both on and offline.

While in-store, 70 percent of millennials use their phone to research a product (consulting social media or online reviews) before buying. Conventional retailers therefore now have the chance to increase their sales considerably by connecting with these consumers on their phone while they are in-store.

Retailers must gear themselves toward customers by providing support for their smartphone from the moment they enter or leave a store. However, retailers must also consider a range of devices, such as tablets, beacons, mobile checkouts, Bluetooth barcode scanners, and electronic displays to maximise this opportunity.

They should, of course, also continue to invest in training their salespeople as customers want to receive exceptional customer service while in-store too, and be able to rely on the fact that the store associated has access to the same level of information they do on their smartphone.

The Connected Associate

Modern retailers should, therefore, focus on the new, connected associate. The next generation of salespeople combines characteristics of the good-old sales advisor (expertise and a personable manner) with knowledge of how to fulfil the needs of young shoppers and digital natives.

Retail technologies
New retail technologies can help staff provide an effective online/offline in-store experience. Source: supplied.

What does a connected associate have at their fingertips? Below are a few examples:

  • Tablets to improve the shopping experience

An optimal tablet ensures the associate has all the information needed to do their job. As well as giving access to the shopping history of registered customers, the associate can immediately check stock levels and availabilities. Having these details at hand on a tablet ensures the customer is not left alone on the shop floor and they are made the priority.

  • Speeding up purchases with a mobile checkout

Long queues at the checkout can test the resolve of even the most patient of consumers and hinder the purchasing decision. Self-service or mPOS terminals significantly speed up the cashless payment transaction, to the benefit of both the retailer and the shopper.

  • Portable devices for tidying up

The process of restocking shelves is sped up considerably with the help of a portable ‘ring scanner,’ which connects to the tablet via Bluetooth. Using data glasses (augmented reality smart glasses) that expand the field of vision with virtual fade-ins, will ensure the well-connected associate is even better equipped, for example through a planogram for product placement. Customer experience will be improved, and the motivation of the employee will increase, which ultimately results in higher sales and profit.

There are even more devices a store could use, and these include large screen displays, which promote product ranges and sales, and beacons that can be mounted in many areas of the store to send data to smartphones via Bluetooth, helping customers find products in the branch.

Security is Mandatory

Retail companies have been offering cashless payment for a long time, which is now enhanced with mobile payments. Tablets, smartphones, beacons, and displays – a true flood of devices – have been making their way into retail. A comprehensive strategy to manage the devices, as well as data security, is therefore critical – customers want their privacy protected.

The term MDM, mobile device management denotes the central management of smartphones, tablets, and laptops. However, in light of rising numbers of devices – such as the Internet of Things (IoT) – MDM is no longer adequate. Enterprise mobility and IoT management involve a unified and integrated software approach, providing a comprehensive and secure management of all mobile devices via a unified web console in a company or retail chain. Yet, only a few software providers have devoted themselves entirely to the mobile world and are able to offer a unified platform approach.

Moving Forward with Technology In-Store

The conflict between online and offline is yesterday’s news because the well-connected associate bridges the gap between the physical store and the online shop. Bricks-and-mortar retail companies now have the chance to give their business new impetus and improved profitability by equipping their employees and the store with intelligent technology. This technology can establish contact and improve interaction with consumers who have been coming into stores with their smartphones for some time now and have been expecting better service.

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